Ultralight Photography for Trail Running and Backpacking
While on the move, you don’t really want to be weighed down by tons of photographic equipment. Here’s our choice of a DSLR quality lightweight setup that’s suitable even for trail runners!
While the ultimate in ultralight photography is arguably using a high end smartphone, for us that’s a compromise too far. While you can certainly get superb results with a good phone, we’ve found that the resulting images can be ropey in lower light. As any landscape photographer will tell you, the ‘golden hour’ either side of dusk or dawn is the prime time for landscapes, so that’s pretty critical in our view! Phones take lovely bright images in bright daylight that are good enough for web and social media, but we’ve not been able to get satisfying results in lower light. Smartphones are however improving all the time, with newer phones boasting RAW file capture.
Another reason against using the phone on a backpacking trip can be battery life. On longer trips, you’ll protect your battery life overzealously, and it can conflict if you’re depending on using the phone to check in to family. You can enable ultra battery modes on the phones that allow basic functions, but maybe not camera.
A good compact camera is another option, with the key being ‘good’. In other words, better than your phone! We think this set-up, with a travel tripod option, would be more than sufficient for most.
Our kit, however, is aimed at enthusiast users who may want a bit more from their photography, and DSLR users who need something approaching serious. It is essential that the kit is compact and light, produces excellent image quality, produces RAW files and with the option of using specific lenses. It also needs to fit into a running pack, which narrows the field down.
Having invested heavily in full frame, our photographic budget until 2020 is already spent. So our solution had to be inexpensive and compatible with our Canon glass, probably with an adapter.
We did consider the compact DSLR package such as the Canon 100D, but that was still far too bulky for running and we don’t think that the action of running would be good for the camera mirror.
The camera we went for was the Canon M, a camera that was slated in reviews when it was first released way back in 2012, due to slow focusing and poor battery life. Since then, new firmware has overcome most issues, though this clearly isn’t an action camera. Not only that, it has been available for well under £300 for some time, but is now discontinued. Second hand prices remain competitive, and it seems with time that people are realising what a gem this camera is, though still far from perfect.
Of course, there are other mirror-less systems out there, and the overwhelming reason we went for this was compatibility with our current kit.
The Lens (or Lenses)
That’s the advantage of mirror-less cameras, you can choose your lens or lenses.
For backpacking you may need something to cover wide angle shots (10-24mm ish) and probably a travel zoom that maxes out at 200 to 250mm, though I only rarely carry anything longer than 105mm. We’ve made do with the 18-55mm kit lens, that’s plenty sharp enough, for route snaps and the 22mm for when we really want to go compact. We can put an Opteka 6mm fisheye on for when we need ultra wide shots, but this doesn’t come close to the 14mm Samyang on the 6D. Fortunately, Samyang have produced a range specifically for the EF-M Mount, so they’re the ideal option if you’re only investing in this system.
As someone with a small selection of Canon glass already, you can use regular canon glass with an adapter, so we can justify bringing a Samyang 14mm on a wild-camp for night shots. You can adapt for other lens types such as vintage Leica M39, M42 or even Canon FD lenses as well, making it a versatile second camera.
For milky way and night shots, the 22mm is great all round lens, just not really wide enough for our liking. However, it’s a bit trickier to get decent results with this compared to the 6D!
Here’s two similar shots with he Canon 6D with the Samyang 14mm, and the EOS M with 22mm pancake.. I’ll let you guess which is which!
This has to be our bargain of the year! A Lowe Pro case, which is an outdoor camera case name you can trust, for around £7! It may be a bit bulkier than a padded dry bag, but still makes the whole caboodle easily packable.
Without a doubt a SLR Gorillapod. It’s the most versatile option, and you can adjust the angle by creatively placing the tripod around random objects.
Essential for time-lapses, but you can’t connect one to this camera. But you can install Magic Lantern on the camera, that’s as light as you can get! This kit is good enough to take 4k time-lapses. Even if that’s not an option for you, if time-lapses are important then an intervalometer doesn’t weigh that much extra.
Batteries and Extras.
Even if you’re going lightweight, you’ll still probably need to include a lens pen or tissues. It may be tempting not to take them, but do you want to risk it? While running, we’ll protect the camera, but we take no extras as there won’t be time to take enough photographs to exhaust the batteries. Of course, you don’t want to overload with too many extras, and we’d say that protection of the camera and extra batteries are the most essential extras. For longer trips, it may well be worth investing in a USB battery charger and a battery pack, or even solar panels.
Wi-Fi enabled SD Card.
You may wonder, why? However, if you’re on the move and want to share a few images then you’ll find that difficult without access to a PC or laptop. WiFi from an SD card allows you to browse your camera’s files from your smartphone with an app, and easily share those images online. We can even download RAW files if needed and process them in something like Lightroom. And all that on the hill! Bring a couple of spare ones as well! We found the Toshiba ones to be ideal as we could download only the images we needed, while some others are designed to sync all your images. Not recommended when you take a couple of GB RAW files on each outing!
You can modify this kit to fit into your trip, depending what you’re after. On a longer trip, you may want to minimise weight, but you may also want to take memorable photos! That’s a decision we can’t make for you!